July 12, 2020
KERALA: Organisational Work in Times of Covid-19 Pandemic

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan

THE Covid-19 pandemic has severely disrupted normal life around the world. It has posed several challenges to the activities of working-class movements in India too. The government formulated the Covid-19 protocol, outlining the restrictions that are to be followed by the people, to check the spread of the contagion. Physical distancing between individuals, use of face mask, frequent use of sanitiser and soap are major components of the protocol.

The increasing number of reported cases reinforces the importance of the Covid-19 protocol. Ironically, this frightening period of pandemic is being exploited as a “golden opportunity” by the BJP-led central government for implementing their pro-capitalist economic policies without any hesitation. They are trying to implement several programmes which are part and parcel of their agenda. The federal structure of the nation has been enormously wounded and the powers of the states have been overruled by the union government. Besides, the prices of all livelihood items including petroleum products have been increased exorbitantly by the central government. Even the basic rights of the working class, which they have acquired through massive and militant struggles, are being curtailed through new acts and ordinances. People in different walks of life are living with huge frustrations because of the anti-people policies of the central government.

Various class and mass organisations are trying to mobilise people against the anti-people policies of the centre despite facing a lot of limitations in mobilising them during the pandemic. The Kerala unit of the CPI(M) has taken a lot of initiatives to organise the masses without violating the Covid-19 protocol. During this time, the initiative for saving the lives of the people from the pandemic is the prime concern of the Party. The Party has given whole-hearted support to and cooperated with the government machinery to stop the spread of the virus. The CPI(M) in Kerala has been in the forefront of such activities and it has been offering various kinds of assistance to the people and the government. After the centre’s sudden announcement of the lockdown, the herculean task of arranging accommodation and food for “guest workers” had been a major challenge faced by the state. But the state government overcame the challenge and provided free accommodation and food, including butter and milk, to guest workers. The state government started community kitchens in more than a thousand centres without any disparity between urban and rural settings. Local self-governments have been managing the community kitchens, and the CPI(M) has been providing sufficient number of volunteers for working and managing them. Party workers have been working there without putting any additional financial burden on the government. And the Party volunteers collected essential items and other materials and distributed them among the needy.  Another major challenge, the accommodation of the guest workers, was managed by the tireless initiative of the local self-governments with the support of people. The Party has played a leading role in arranging all the amenities for the workers who hailed from outside the state.

In Kerala, the situation is very different from the national scenario. The coordinated efforts of the state government and the people are teaching us how a Communist government should work in a capitalist regime. The massive campaign for physical distancing, and use of face mask, sanitizer and soap are taken as the main agenda by the class and mass organisations. In each and every corner of the state, hand washing facilities with soap have been arranged by the organisations. In the urban areas, it has been arranged collectively. The trade unions have done a commendable work to convey message to the workers on the importance of the precautions against the pandemic.

The Party understood that for resisting the spread of Covid-19, a huge amount of financial assistance is required. The Party, then, had given a call to support the initiative for the collection towards the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF). The Party cadres and well-wishers have given more than Rs 50 crore as contributions to the CMDRF. And the class and mass organisations have made their own contributions to various activities of the government. One example is in the education sector. The general education department has announced a special educational programme for the students through the VICTERS channel. But the state had faced another reality that the number of students who don’t have the television, laptop and smart phone, which is the minimum requirement for getting online material, was not so small. Hence, the organisations took the initiative to arrange TV for poor families which was popularised as a TV challenge. A good number of TV sets have been distributed to the economically backward students. The universalisation of electrification has helped a lot to these activities in the state. Students, youth, women and trade unions have contributed in the TV Challenge campaign in large numbers.

At the same time, the Party reminded that the mass contact and campaign cannot be neglected by the cadres and units, and mass and class organisations. The question arises on the mobilisation of masses against the anti-people policies of the BJP government. In such a situation, a new organisational method has been added along with traditional style of functioning by the working-class organisations. The Party state committee meeting was conducted on June 12 through online mode following the Polit Bureau meeting. The meeting discussed the recent situation and the mode of organisational activities during the period of Covid-19. On one side, we have an urgency to mobilise the people against the anti-people policies of the central government. Another important thing is the mass political education through the Party cadres. These two aspects cannot be overlooked for developing an anti-imperialist political sphere. 

The state committee has decided to utilise the digital platform for promoting the political campaign of the Party. First time in the history of our Party, the decisions of Polit Bureau and Central Committee were reported to the Party members through online by S Ramachandran Pillai, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member. According to this understanding, a massive number of comrades who are active in social media has prepared and conducted huge poster campaign on digital platform. On June 16, the struggle against the policies of the central government was organised with enormous participation of people from different walks of life. It was conducted at more than five centres in each and every branch and five to ten comrades assembled at every point with placards. In this struggle, more than ten lakh comrades participated in a very disciplined manner. This huge number of volunteers in the struggle who had followed the Covid-19 protocol is an attractive model to all. On June 25, another struggle was organised against the price hike of petrol and diesel. It had proved the depth of people’s anger against the policy of the centre. The campaign through the digital platform had helped heavily in the agitation led by the organisation.  

The political education to the Party cadres and masses is being affected by the pandemic. Therefore, the Party has decided to conduct the continuous programmes online for mass education. In the first step of the programme, a campaign was started, Namallonniche (we together), and it had received good appreciation from the Party comrades. It was telecast live on Facebook every Monday. The family meeting of the Party sympathisers at branch level, which was conducted online in majority of Party branches, is another notable step in the difficult times of Covid-19. Party education subcommittee has planned eight classes on fundamentals of Marxism to be taught to Party members. It was inaugurated by S Ramachandran Pillai with a class on the “Importance of Marxism” during the period. This class shall be taken every Saturday and the smart TV and other facilities have been arranged in various centres of the Party branch for telecasting the class. The online intervention is not for replacing the offline activities of Party organisation. Therefore, as a Communist party, the cadres and the class and mass organisations should consider the initiative for our struggle seriously. Here, we should remember, Communist party – the vanguard of the working class – will overcome these challenges as the challenge itself will give an opportunity for the working class.